Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Guest Post ~ Christine Lemmon

My Husband as My Publisher

Ready or not, morning comes and I move through my messy house spinning like a top reacting to the demands of three children while at the same time scribbling in crayon on coloring books bursts of inspiration for the novel I have been staying up late to write. In the midst of morning chaos my husband tells me he needs me to autograph—to sign my name in one case of Sanibel Scribbles, two cases of Portion of the Sea and four cases of Sand in My Eyes before he leaves for work, oh, and a case of Whisper from the Ocean as well.

I hurry in my pajamas down the steps of our house on stilts on Sanibel Island—a barrier island off Florida’s Gulf Coast—and unlock the shed where we keep the inventory for the four books we have independently published. How hard will it be to sign my name 240 times this morning? My toddler appears with a black magic marker wanting to help and I try telling her for the millionth time only mommy is allowed to write in these books.

“Don’t forget the Indie Excellence stickers,” my husband calls down. My boys hear and come running to help put the stickers on the books. Being a 2010 National Finalist in the Fiction Category of the National Indie Excellence Award was our most recent achievement in this passionate and arduous journey of self-publishing and the stickers let readers know that my third book Sand in My Eyes meets the highest standard of independent publishing.

Expressing our creative freedom and producing books every bit the quality of major publishers has been our goal in self-publishing but we have had to make difficult decisions in the name of excellence. We paid an artist for his time in creating a cover for our gift book, Whisper from the Ocean. He gave us five choices but we didn’t care for any. We had to pay more money for more choices and still didn’t like them. Adhering to a deadline, we settled on one, but when the book jackets arrived by truck, we felt sick to our stomachs for having settled. The seashells on the cover looked more like alien eggs and our book like science fiction. We had the jackets destroyed, the printed books coverless and held up at a warehouse and we spent the next few months working with another artist to find a suitable cover. We ended up spending more money than we wanted on cover art and also missed Florida’s busiest tourism season. In the end, however, we had a cover we were proud of!

Books signed and stickers on, I meet my husband with a cup of coffee on the front porch where we sit every morning to discuss publishing. It’s just me, him, the three kids parading past, the osprey screeching from its nest outside our door, and the pileated woodpecker drumming on our roof. From our little home that looks more like a birdhouse than what a family of five calls ‘home,’ we have independently produced four books that have sold tens of thousands of copies and have gone into multiple print-runs and as a result, were picked up by a national distributor and will be re-releasing nationally summer 2010.

My husband reminds me my 14-blog tour is starting and I need to get writing my blogs. I complain a little, telling him I’d prefer to focus on the writing of my new book. But I know better. A writer, especially one who self-publishes, must also take time to promote. It is then my husband tells me he has a surprise, that when I was down signing books he got a phone call and a major newspaper will be reviewing Sand in My Eyes and that they might also be doing a story on self-publishing and they might want to interview me. “You mean us,” I say right away. “They’d have to talk to us.”

My husband leaves for work and I head to the beach with the kids. I sit in the sand thinking about ‘us’ and the three children and four books we have brought into this world. We have come a long ways from our dating days when I would write of him in my journal and dangle it unlocked in his face, reading out loud certain parts while substituting ‘blankety blank’ for other parts. Never did I imagine that the nineteen year-old boy I was teasing with my flirtatious literary prowess would one day become both my husband and publisher!

When we were newlyweds living in Atlanta with no furniture, not a dollar to our names, I begged him to buy me a computer on credit card sensing then I had something I wanted to write. We set the computer up and the first night I feared maybe we should have bought kitchen chairs instead. The second night I read the entire Windows Manual, and the third night said a prayer that I might write something significant with the computer so my husband doesn’t hate me. That night I started writing what became my first novel, Sanibel Scribbles.

A couple of years later and living in northern California, the writing of my novel became a passionate morning hobby of mine, waking before my husband and writing two hours before work. At night I would lay in bed giving him back massages while rambling on about the plot, themes and characters I was creating. At this point, he was simply my ‘listener’ who would passively comment, “Sounds exciting, wow—nice structure.”

A few years later my husband took a business opportunity that had us relocating to Nashville, TN. I had quit my job to be a stay-at-home mother and his business opportunity that had us relocating fell apart while we were en route so we arrived to Nashville both of us stay-at-home parents without income. That’s when my husband asked to read my manuscript for the very first time. He disappeared with it and when he returned, announced that he wanted to publish it. But first, he told me my guy parts sounded ‘dorky’ and that guys don’t talk that way. He went line by line with me through all the male parts and we rewrote them the way a guy really talks.

I never questioned my husband as a publisher. I was as ecstatic that day as I would have been had I signed a six-figure advance with a major publisher like Bantam Double Day Dell! As much as my husband believed in my writing, I, too, believed in his work ethic and his ability to get things done, for I had seen these traits in him first hand.

Within days, the two of us, along with our crying baby, were spending hours in the self-publishing aisle of the bookstore reading, mastering everything there was to know about starting a publishing house from A to Z. Hey, if Virginia Woolf and her husband could found their own printing press to put forth her books, then so could we! Within weeks we had an artist creating a cover and a line editor catching typos and a printer giving us estimates. Still unemployed and months later—our trunk loaded with copies of Sanibel Scribbles—we were on our way to Sanibel Island, the setting of our story and the place in which I had vacationed since I was two years old. It was also the place where John and I held our wedding reception but we hadn’t enough money to spend the night there.

Never did I imagine I’d be sitting out nursing my baby in the car, watching my husband walk in and out of every gift shop on Sanibel, doing his sales thing, asking whether the stores might like to carry his wife’s book. And each time he returned to the car, I’d let out a yelp of pure shock and joy that the stores were all saying, “Yes, we’ll take a few copies on consignment and if they sell, we’ll take more.”

Self-publishing is not easy. It is not for someone who just wants to see their books in print. Rather, it is for someone who has a good idea and a desire to create something excellent out of nothing, who can enjoy the process and is willing to learn all there is to know about an industry and make one small decision after the next until one day all those decisions turn into a finished product, but even then their work is not finished because they have to find a home for it and promote it and pay for it, too.

“Mom,” my son calls out to me on the beach, “that lady is reading your book!” Do I go up to the woman and introduce myself? Feeling the vulnerability of ‘what if she doesn’t like it’, no, I don’t. I call my husband on my cell phone instead. “There’s a lady sitting next to us on the beach and she’s reading our book.”

“Go up to her and thank her for reading it,” he urges me. I do and am glad I did. She loves the book and had stayed up most of the night reading it!

 About the author ~ 

Christine Lemmon is the author of three novels - Sanibel Scribbles, Portion of the Sea, and Sand in My Eyes, and the gift book, Whisper from the Ocean. She has lived all over the country writing for radio, newspaper, television and magazine.

She currently lives with her husband and three children on Sanibel Island, a subtropical island off Florida's Gulf Coast, which is the setting for her novels. She gets most of her inspiration while biking, kayaking or walking around the island, and watching sunsets with her family, but then she must hold her ideas until night, when her children are sleeping and she can write.

Christine is a frequent speaker at luncheons, book clubs and women's groups where she discusses writing and creativity. She is writing her next novel. Her website blogs appear as columns in the ISLAND SUN.

 Sand in My Eyes 

FINALIST in the Fiction Category of the 2010 National Indie Excellence Awards

Twenty years ago, Anna Hott thought she could control everything-her crumbling marriage, her demanding children, her hectic life-by quitting her high-paced job in New York City and moving her family to tranquil Sanibel Island, Florida. But she brought her untamed emotions, her rage toward her cheating husband, and her yearning to write a novel with her. When her husband and children left the house for a week, Anna thought at last she would get her household, her novel, and her mind in order. Instead, her elderly neighbor Fedelina Aurelio knocked on her door bearing flowers and homespun wisdom, and when Fedelina's recently divorced son arrived, Anna had a test of passion and a test of truth. Now, at 56 with an empty nest, Anna Hott pulls out the incomplete manuscript she started that memorable week and-to find closure for her life and a conclusion for her novel-travels to Indiana to visit Fedelina who lives in a nursing home.

A novel framed within a novel, Sand in My Eyes is both a story about the tension between motherhood and personal dreams as well as a story about women across generations inspiring one another to let beauty persist despite ugly circumstances.

Other books by Christine

For more on Christine Lemmon and her books, visit her site, her blog  or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

1 comment:

librarypat said...

Wonderful interview. I have to admire Christine and her husband for having the fortitude to hang in there and accomplish all they have. It is not an easy thing to do when you have small children to care for and support. The books sound interesting. I'll have to make sure I look for them.